Making Easter Eggs in Bulgaria

Did you know that Bulgarians traditionally dye eggs for Easter?

Yeah, I know. Americans do, too. But Bulgarians are really into Easter eggs, though!


dyeing 5,000 eggs in a Bulgarian monastery

Peace Corps volunteers are told that the presence of a sickeningly optimistic, naive newcomer can inspire locals to see their home country with new eyes. Likewise, conning my man into moving to Bulgaria with me has refreshed my curiosity about my former Peace Corps site.

Lorenzo, being naturally more inquisitive and observant than I am, has lots of questions. To my shame, I usually can’t answer them. I know more about Bulgaria than the average American, but not half as much as I should, considering I’m fluent in Bulgarian, lived here for two years, and have heard the country’s history, recited in Homeric monologues by at least four old men I met on trains, beginning with the words, “Thirteen-hundred years ago…”

A typical trip through town with Lorenzo is like this:

“Who’s that?” he asks.

“Uhh, Saint Sofia?” It was a good guess, considering it’s a giant statue of a beautiful saintly woman with a crown on her head, a huge bird and a wreath of laurels, and it’s smack in the middle of the city, which is called Sofia.

“Neat, what’d she do?”

“Uhhhh,”

Or, as we’re riding down General Totleben Boulevard, he’ll ask, “Who was General Totleben?”

“I guess he was probably a general,” At this point we’ve reached Macedonia Square.

“Why is it called Macedonia Square?”

“I don’t know, because Macedonia is next to Bulgaria?” At least I know that.

Good Friday and whatever-the-Monday-after-Easter-Sunday-is-called (Lorenzo’s the Catholic, not me) are both national holidays, which makes Easter a four-day weekend. I guess Christ rose so that for two extra days I don’t have to, at least before noon. Just as Americans ask their coworkers what their plans are for a long weekend, for the last few days our friends have casually asked us, “Are you going to dye eggs?”

“Why do people keep asking if we’re going to dye eggs?” said my beloved this morning, “I’m a grown-ass adult. I haven’t dyed eggs since I was nine.”

Do grown-ups not ask each other that question in the US? I don’t know anymore.

“Bulgarians dye eggs for Easter,” I answered, “And then everyone hits each others’ eggs against theirs, and the last person with a un-cracked egg is the winner, and they save their egg, and they’ll have good luck all year.” Or, as my friend Vonka says, they’re the loser, because they have to keep a hard-boiled egg for a year.

velikden

this is the kind of thing you might find on your Facebook wall for Easter

Traditionally, Bulgarian Easter eggs were all dyed red. The first egg to go in the dye pot was supposedly sacred, and was saved until the following Easter (yes, that’s another egg you’re supposed to keep for a year). Those who have introduced heathen colors like blue and orange into their egg-dyeing rituals are still supposed to dye this first one red. According to this post, red eggs are indispensable around the homestead. You can rub them on your boils, bury them in your crops to prevent hail, or just glue the shells to your walls and ceiling for a witchy-chic look.

Once he saw egg-dyeing as another pagan, old-world custom that Bulgaria un-self-consciously carries on, Lorenzo was excited about it. We eschewed the somber bottles of red dye for red onions, like my grandma uses.

IMG_3900

The internet told me that leaves, rice grains and other detritus could make resist-dye patterns on the eggs, so I gathered what was in the house: parsley, dill, oatmeal, beans, sugar, yarn, and a granny square.

IMG_3902IMG_3901

We used fifteen eggs, seven red onions, and one extra-large pair of pantyhose. Next time, I’ll use three times as many onions and twice as many pantyhose for the same number of eggs.

We peeled the onions and washed the eggs. Each egg we wetted, wrapped with onion skins and stuffed tightly into a knotted pantyhose segment. If we wanted a resist pattern, we’d wrap the egg with a parsley or dill sprig, or a length of yarn, before putting on the onion skin. We messed around with the sugar, oats and beans, but got better results with the herbs and the yarn.

IMG_3962

Once an egg was wrapped in onion and tied snugly in nylon, it went into a big pot of water with a tablespoon or so of vinegar. For good measure I also threw in whatever onion scraps were left over from the peeling process. Then we boiled the eggs for twenty minutes, or at least until the electricity to the stove shorted out.

IMG_3903

IMG_3932
Our trusty stove, whose name rhymes with ‘badger’ in Bulgarian

We waited until the water was completely cooled before unwrapping the eggs, a feat of patience that deepened my understanding of what Jesus must’ve gone through.

IMG_3961

The result were mottled, rusty red eggs, just like at my Grandma’s house. Here’s my favorite:

IMG_3960

Happy Easter everybody! Христос возкресе! I’m sure these blood-colored eggs are just what He wanted, and have nothing to do with a pagan celebration of rebirth and fertility. -H/Х

 

Advertisements

6 responses to “Making Easter Eggs in Bulgaria

  1. I dig the Facebook Easter meme. That’s hilarious and awesome.

  2. These are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    Do you make a hole and blow the inside of the egg out or do you hard boil the egg? Which is better? Can you keep the hard boiled variety or must these be thrown away after Easter? Thank you.

    • We hardboiled the eggs, but since they had to be in the water for about half an hour they turned out pretty hard. I have kept boiled eggs in the fridge for a year (silly Bulgarian superstitions!), and they seem to dry up and get very light, but don’t smell. I think blowing them out before you boil them would be great, but since you have to wrap the eggs tightly it would be a delicate balance not to break them.
      My grandma hard boiled them and threw them in the compost after Easter. I guess it was a good lesson in detachment for me when I was little. 🙂

      • Thank you for the detailed explanation. My friend she blew the eggs and then wrapped in silk neck ties. They were then wrapped in cloth and simmered in vinegar and water for 60 mins. The pattern of the ties is transferred to the egg shell. I tried this on wool and it is very effective too.

  3. A bunch of fun facts:

    0. Unbroken hard-boiled eggs are practically sterile and if you keep them away from moisture they will dry (which is why they become lighter) and will not smell at all. They look quite interesting inside when dried and are also edible. The tradition is to keep your egg “борец” next to the family icon and if you are “righteous” it will last a year and not spoil. A fun thing is that if you contaminate it (by touching it, due to bad ventilation or because Бог punished you for being naughty) it will eventually explode and will smell so bad that you will have to evacuate the room for a week. They are likely to last less in the fridge though, because of condensation.

    1. There is a new and improved model of РАХОВЕЦ 01 — РАХОВЕЦ 02:
    It comes in white and brown and has a technological breakthrough — a lamp inside and diods so you know when it’s on! I also believe they still manufacture them.

    Anyway, I decided to share this since I’ve been really enjoying your blog today.

    • Wow, that’s super interesting! We didn’t want to chance it with the eggs since we’re pretty naughty in general. I’ll look into Раховец 02 for when ours finally kicks the bucket. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s